House Democrats on Tuesday advanced the first of several new gun control bills intended to address a recent scourge of mass shootings, escalating pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up any legislation on guns.
The House Judiciary Committee kicked off a two-day debate on a trio of gun bills — including a ban on large capacity magazines that would mark Congress’s strongest step on the issue in 25 years — that, if signed into law, could dramatically reshape federal rules on access to guns and ammunition.
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All three bills are slated to reach the House floor within weeks, with Democrats eager to draw a sharp contrast with the inaction of the Senate GOP. But without a personal push from President Donald Trump, none are likely to see action in the Senate.
The first bill, which was approved late Tuesday entirely along party lines, offers federal grant money to states that pass “red flag” laws that allows a judge to order the temporary seizure of guns from a potentially dangerous person.
It resembles an idea lauded by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has also backed red flag laws. But that text has not been released, and the proposal has drawn criticism from the National Rifle Association.
Democratic leaders hope the red flag bill — along with separate legislation to limit gun access to people who have been convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes — will help coax Senate GOP lawmakers into compromise. The strongest of the three bills, a high-capacity ammunition ban, stands no chance in the Senate.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the panel’s top Republican, dismissed all three bills as highly flawed.
“Like you, I am concerned about addressing this important issue,” Collins said at the markup. “I stand ready to work with you on sensible solutions that actually can prevent these atrocities,” he added, though he did not provide specifics.
Two days after returning from recess, Democrats in both chambers are grasping on a new wave of urgency after shootings this summer killed three dozen people in Ohio, Texas and California.
The House Democrats’ legislative push — while notable for a Congress that has passed few gun restrictions in its history — is one-sided, and comes with little to no expectation that any of the bills will become law.
“We are in the same position after the heinous acts of Columbine that we are today,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), a veteran lawmaker who served on a congressional task force after the deadly school shooting in Columbine, Col. in 1999. “I heard the same arguments. I heard, ‘Let’s wait.’”
What is different, Democrats say, is the mounting calls for action within their base: more and more people who have witnessed gun violence tear apart their families and communities firsthand.
That includes Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), a freshman Democrat who got her start in politics as a gun control activist with a painful personal story: Her son, Jordan, was shot to death at age 17.
“She was not a member of Congress, she was a grieving mother,” Jackson Lee said of McBath, a fellow Judiciary Committee member, as she acknowledged the freshman lawmaker’s contributions to the bills.
During the markup, McBath herself delivered powerful remarks that prompted a rare round of applause from her colleagues in the panel.
“Inaction is unacceptable. Today, we are acting to help those in crisis,” McBath said, becoming emotional from her seat. “I promise you. No one is immune to this, don’t ever believe you are immune to this.”
Several other members of the panel have seen mass shootings in their districts, including Rep. Veronica Escobar, who represents El Paso, Texas, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren who represents Gilroy, Calif. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) represents Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed in February 2018.
The killings in California, Ohio and Texas this summer sent droves of people to lawmakers’ town halls demanding action on guns. It has also reignited the first serious policy debate within the Republican party since teenagers were slain in Parkland.